It has been a long time since a law has divided Quebec as deeply as Bill 21.  One of the most reliable indicators to distinguish those who support the law from those who don’t is a sense of personal vulnerability. Given the direct correlation between vulnerability and minority status within Quebec society, it is not surprising that many ELAN members feel uncomfortable with Bill 21, and the way it was adopted.

When I was a child, my parents used a very simple method to teach fairness. One child would cut desert into equal portions.  Then the other children would choose first, the cutter last. It was an object lesson in functional democracy.

Issues can be democratically decided by a majority vote when they affect all citizens equally. Issues that affect citizens unequally require a more even-handed, far-sighted approach. If one minority’s freedom can be restricted today, tomorrow a different minority will suffer.  Someday, on some issue, we will all be in a minority situation, and when that day comes it is painfully clear why the people cutting the cake should not have a monopoly on choosing who gets the biggest pieces.

Mercifully, we live in a society where even contentious issues can be debated respectfully because we all, in a very real way, can identify with being part of a vulnerable minority. Wishing you all a splendid summer.

Guy Rodgers

Executive Director

“Indigenous rights include Indigenous language rights. Indigenous languages are irreplaceable foundations for individual, community and Nations’ identity, sense of belonging to a place, and well-being.”

Via Kanehsatake Voices / Kanehsatà: ke Kontinónstats ne Kanien’kéha (Mohawk Language Custodian Association, Inc.)

MLCA Position on Quebec’s Indigenous Cultural Policy (2016)

 

This year marks the United Nations’ observance of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. As we in turn mark National Indigenous Day today in Canada, we’re thinking about the weight and cultural essence of language. The National Inquiry’s MMIWG Final Report, released earlier this month, recognized that assaults on Indigenous cultures were “the starting points for other forms of violence Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people experience today.” The National Inquiry found that the most appropriate term to encompass the breadth of violence imposed by the Canadian state on Indigenous peoples was indeed genocide. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee had also reported,

 

“It seems logical to conclude that Canada’s actions in forcible transferring Aboriginal children from their racial group to another in order to eliminate or destroy their cultures and languages – and therefore their racial group – could at least amount to a legal wrong cognizable in Canadian law because of Canada’s acceptance of it as a legal wrong in international law.”

 

With Canada’s acknowledgement of the magnitude of the state’s colonial violence and its generational impacts, grows the urgency for cultural revitalization. Language shapes our essential world-view and our understanding of the impacts of human activities. It is intrinsic to forming identity. How do different languages change the ways we understand our own experiences? What do our languages permit us? What do we not see because we lack the words?

 

“English doesn’t give as many tools for incorporating respect for animacy. In English, you are either a human or a thing. Our grammar boxes us in by the choice of reducing a nonhuman being to an it, or it must be gendered, inappropriately, as a ‘he’ or a ‘she’. Where are our words for the simple existence of another living being?

One afternoon, I sat with my field ecology students by a wiikwegamaa and shared this idea of animate language. One young man, Andy, splashing his feet in the clear water, asked the big question. “Wait a second,” he said as he wrapped his mind around this linguistic distinction, “doesn’t this mean that speaking English, thinking in English, somehow gives us permission to disrespect nature? By denying everyone else the right to be a person? Wouldn’t things be different if nothing was an ‘it’?”

From Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

 

During our State of the Arts Activation Conference this past February, we heard from Nadine St-Louis (Executive Director of Sacred Fire Productions) who led a teach-in, “From theory to practice: reclaiming Indigenous narratives within colonial spaces”. Nadine spoke of a shift in awareness of both the contemporary colonial history of Canada and the histories of First Nations before colonization. An essential thread of hope and progress is the resurgence of Indigenous voices reclaiming the stories and languages that are integral to this land.

 

“Making room for the use of Indigenous languages is forward-thinking.” Nadine St-Louis.

Indigenous Women’s Turn to Take the Talking Stick

“By highlighting the richness of Indigenous languages as a means of expressing living cultures, the FNQLSDI hopes to contribute to strengthening a sense of belonging and pride among First Nations people, young and less young.”

 

In response to an audience question on the connections between colonization and climate-change, Nadine St-Louis said, “The Indigenous worldview is: land, community, family. You as an individual are at the bottom. Capitalism and colonialism is the reverse. Money, me-myself-and-I, and the land at the end. … The most important ethic is your responsibility to the land. We need to change how we view wealth, how we invest, how we do ‘development’.”

 

We recommend: Turtle Island Reads

The Turtle Island Reads initiative is a partnership between CBC Montreal, LEARN, Quebec Writers’ Federation, CODE NGO and McGill Faculty of Education as well as McGill University’s Social Equity and Diversity Education Office.

 

In 2006, ELAN’s second year in existence was one of significant growth and strategic partnerships. Our emerging place on the web began with the creation of our first website with funding from Canadian Content Online. This way, we were able to create space to spotlight our community of members by adding the Artist’s Showcase and the Events Calendar. The Artists’ Showcase has now evolved into our Member Directory, and the ELAN Events Calendar has grown to include our new Community Calendar, which showcases member-submitted events!

We also published the first issue of ELANews, which today has roughly 2500 subscribers. The first edition was published by our then part-time staff member Nadia Myre. Nadia has since gone on to become an award winning visual artist and in 2019 was appointed a companion in l’Ordre des arts et des lettres du Québec (joining ELAN’s Executive Director Guy Rodgers, who was appointed in 2015).

(Left to right: MAAP II team:  Louise Campbell (who became ELAN’s vice-president 12 years later), Simon Wayland, Jonathan Lindhorst  and Sarah Wendt)

ELAN’s MAAP (Minority Anglophone Artists Projects) I & II

During its first year, ELAN worked in close partnership with our sister organizations, the Quebec Writers’ Federation (QWF), the Association of English-Language Publishers of Quebec (AELAQ), and the Quebec Drama Federation (QWF). These close partnerships allowed us to quickly understand the landscape for English-speaking artists in literature and theatre, but we had no formal connections to other artistic disciplines.

ELAN’s first projects were focused on research to find out: how many English-speaking artists were living and working in Quebec, what they knew about resources available to them, and what additional support they desired. MAAP 1 (2006) examined Visual Arts, and MAAP II (2007) examined Music and Dance.

(ELAN members in working groups at AGM held at Kola Noté)

Le Regroupement des artistes en arts visual du Quebec (RAAV) was the official representative of visual artists in Quebec (in parallel to CARFAC across Canada). Many English-speaking artists did not know of the existence of the RAAV prior to MAAP, and very few were members.  RAAV was interested in knowing how it could attract and serve English-speaking artists.

RAAV served visual artists’ essential needs for equity, labour rights, and representation in Quebec, and give a voice to the unique needs of English-speaking visual artists in our province.   Working with RAAV was ELAN’s first significant collaboration with French-speaking service organizations.

Through this project, RAAV became a close partner of ELAN, electing an English-speaking visual artist to their board and planning its first ever bilingual workshops. We also helped them translate parts of their website, making the significant work of RAAV that more accessible to English-speaking visual artists. It is a common (mis)perception that language is irrelevant to visual artists. Contracts must be negotiated, grants must be written, information must be obtained and understood. All of these business activities require language skills and can be a challenge for English-speaking artists living and working in Quebec.

   

(ELAN members at AGM held at Kola Noté)

Some of you might remember the phone-calls we made during our annual membership drive this past winter, during which we asked you about your feedback and needs on ELAN membership. Back in 2005, we contacted over 600 English-speaking visual artists in Quebec to poll them on current activities, goals, aspirations, and obstacles. Of these, 140 detailed surveys provided data that would help us develop a better understanding of artists’ needs in the province, and shape a clear path of actions that would help our community reach its needs.


What were some of the responses to our MAAP surveys?

Some of the needs raised by artists we surveyed still resonate today. Here’s a snapshot of our MAAP Visual Arts survey:

Translation: access to translation services to make the work of English-speaking artists available to French-speaking audiences; employment and availability of English translators and revisors within French-speaking artist-run centres and institutions.

Resources: lack of affordable housing forces artists to live in their studios; artists are caught in the mandate to make a profit and can’t claim expenses otherwise; lack of equipment sharing.

Language: ability to network, participate in events, and communicate in French.


(Left: Staff members Guy Rodgers and Monica Majewski. Right: Staff member Sandra Belanger)

This was a highly successful project for us in ELAN’s early years. Our outreach sensitized the English-language visual arts communities of Quebec to ELAN’s recent formation and purpose. We also saw a rapid increase in our membership from 80 at the start of the MAAP project, to 150 by the end.

Today, ELAN’s community consists of over 350 members with 127 identifying as visual artists, some of whom you might find featured in our recently initiated Artists Illuminated blog! Building on the work we started in 2005, we would continue to work with the English-speaking visual arts community of Quebec through our Visual Arts Market Access project. The action plan we developed through this project enabled us to also apply these outcomes to the dance and music sectors. In the years to come, ELAN would see this cross-pollination come to fruition when we launched the Performing Arts Market Access project

Founded in 1981 by Rahul Varma and Rana Bose, Teesri Duniya Theatre is one of the very few culturally-inclusive companies in Canada. It is also one of its kind in Quebec due to our production of plays by visible minorities, First Nations, as well as dominant cultures.

Guy Rodgers, Christie Huff, Paul Knowles and the AIG team at the ArtistsInspire Grants launch in Laval on May 23.

I am pleased to introduce ELAN’s new Administration Manager. Deborah Forde is already well known to many of you. Previously Executive Director of the Quebec Drama Federation, she brings ELAN a wealth of knowledge about grant writing, budgeting, financial management and HR. Deborah’s addition to the team will allow me to have more time to work on the exciting new project I shared with you last month. All of ELAN’s staff and board join with me in welcoming Deborah to the team.

I also want to congratulate Christie Huff on the extraordinary work she has done with ELAN to connect Arts and Education. Christie worked closely with me for many months to write the initial grant application that launched the ACE (Arts, Communities and Education) Initiative. This year, thanks to new funding from the Secretariat for Relations with English-speaking Quebecers, twelve schools and communities around Quebec connected with artists to co-create learning experiences that participants told us were extraordinarily meaningful. On May 23, after celebrating an innovative ACE project with artists Jason Selman & Melanie Garcia at Laval Senior Academy, ELAN launched a new project funded by the Government of Canada, called Artists Inspire Grants (AIG).

The largest project ELAN has ever undertaken, AIG is designed to distribute $1,500 micro grants to hundreds of schools serving English-speaking communities in each of the next four years so that thousands of students can have inspirational experiences with artists. To coordinate ACE and AIG, ELAN has created an ArtEd Team, managed by Christie Huff, in collaboration with consultants Jennifer Cooke and Paula Knowles, and ELAN’s Program Manager Amy Macdonald. This work is challenging and exciting. You will be hearing much more about it in the years ahead.

Guy Rodgers

Executive Director